Joey and I have always tried to record songs that matter to us—songs that we can relate to in a personal way. Some are songs we’ve written and some we’ve found. More times than not, they’re songs about us—about our lives. But from time to time, a song we record comes to life in a way we never imagined.
Years ago, our friend Sandy Lawrence wrote a song for her mother who she was caring for as she was passing away. It was something she said she wrote to help her through her feelings—to help her heal.
In 2012, Joey and I were in the studio recording a new album. This record was going to be called His and Hers and different than the ones we’d made before where Joey sang every song and I just sang harmony... on this record she wanted me to sing half of the songs. And so I did.
As we were looking for and choosing the 12 songs that would go on the new record, we both knew that we wanted one of them to be a Sandy Lawrence song. Sandy was an undiscovered songwriter who had moved to Nashville twenty-something years ago and knocked on a thousand un-opened doors on Music Row. In her late 50’s now, working at a library and helping her husband Cowboy Jack take care of the horses at their small ranch south of Franklin, we had come to know and love the songs that Sandy wrote. Different than most songwriters in Nashville where co-writing runs rampant, Sandy writes hers alone. And they’re brilliant.
And maybe by chance, by recording one of her songs... we could change Sandy’s life and the world could discover what a gift she has. That’s our favorite part of recording other people’s songs.
Sitting in the studio with my laptop, I went through a few of the songs that we liked and then came across a new one that Sandy had sent me. It was her work-tape of “When I’m Gone.” I played it for Joey.
She listened as her tears fell.
Ten minutes later, our producer Gary Paczosa, Joey, and I were gathered around Gordon Mote and his piano—finding Joey’s key to record the song in. Gordon is blind and though he can’t see with his eyes... his gift of sight is much stronger than ours. It was as if he could see what this song would one day become and he laid his fingers on the keys and softly started playing the intro notes on the piano that you hear now.
We wept again.
Fast forward a few months and we were at our farm in the big barn making a music video for When I’m Gone. We knew the recording was special and our hope was that the song’s message might help someone who is in the midst of losing someone they love or who has already lost someone and is trying to make sense of it all.
Someone like me... and my girls. And Joey’s mama and daddy. And three sisters. And all our friends.
The day we made the video, we planned to just have Joey and I sing the song in front of the cameras and Sandy play piano in the background. We lit candles and transformed our barn into a beautiful studio set. But an hour or two before shooting started, Gabe and Aaron and BA came to me and said we have an idea... they said, “what if you’re the one who has lost someone and Joey’s singing to you?”
I didn’t like it.
I told them so. It hit too close to home.
But as they continued to talk and I listened... I realized that “yes, of course. We have to make it that way. It’s the story in the song.”
It wasn’t what I wanted... but it’s what the song wanted. And though it scared me for us to be that vulnerable, it was also what our whole lives and music career was about—being real... being honest.
And so the cameras rolled and both Joey and I let ourselves imagine what it would be like if she had to leave this world and I was left behind without her...
And now, here I sit beside my dying wife.
I don’t say those words lightly. As a matter-of-fact, I haven’t said them at all. But my beautiful bride has said them to me in these couple of days. Her pain and discomfort have continued to increase daily and so has the morphine to help her be comfortable. The dosage she’s needed to keep the pain away has quadrupled in the last four days.
I’d like to tell you that she’s doing great and is going to beat this thing. But I can’t.
Yesterday with tears in her eyes and mine, Joey held my hand and told me that she has been having serious talks with Jesus. She said she told him that if He’s ready to take her... she’s ready to come home.
Our ‘make-believe‘ song and video seem to be coming true.
Some call it ‘life imitating art.’ I don’t.
I call it God.
He knew I would need her to tell me goodbye... not just once, but a thousand times. And I’d need to know that no matter how much time passes, that she loves me still. And He made it so that if I needed to be reminded of her beautiful life and heart and voice... she would only be a ‘click’ away.
Am I angry at the irony of the song? No. How could I be?
How many men who are losing the woman they love get a gift like that? None that I know of.
Joey and I have asked to have “When I’m Gone” added to our new “Hymns That Are Important To Us“ album that’s coming out in a couple of weeks in Cracker Barrel and most other places all around the country. It’s not a classic hymn, but to us it is.
It is a very special song, filled with hope and love. And in time, I believe it will have the power to help heal a million broken hearts...